The images bring to mind Jesus' phrase 'the least of these' (Matthew 25:40). If anyone qualifies as 'the least of these' it is surely Aylan Kurdi.
Compassion is for the least able, the least powerful, even the least deserving. Why? Because only an irrational, unqualified compassion truly reflects the love of God.
There is a chilling logic to the reasons we give for not helping:
'If we help these, more will come...We should work on making peace in the nations they come from...We need to make sure we only help the deserving poor.'
This is a tight, Pharisaic reasoning that preserves our entitlement and keeps the mess outside our borders.
Compelling as these arguments can sometimes be - and who doesn't think that peace in Syria is a better option? - they are the exact opposite of the logic of Jesus. The logic of Jesus says simply: a small child has floated in dead on the morning tide, does anyone want to find out why and do something about it?
This tragic image goes to the heart of what compassion means. The prefix 'com' always means 'the same as' and 'passion' means suffering, as in The Passion of the Christ.
Having the same suffering as these families. Experiencing their plight as if it was your own. This is what compassion means. So the question many of us ask instinctively is legitimate. What if this was my child?
One photograph does not redefine reality: but this image will alter the perception of Europe's refugee crisis, and rightly so.
Several changes that the death of Aylan Kurdi will bring are:
- The shift in language, long overdue, between a 'migrant problem' and a 'refugee crisis'. As the poem circulating online has it, 'no one puts their child into a boat unless the sea is safer than the land.'
- The stirring of a popular movement of solidarity which is bringing people together across creedal and social divisions, uniting in compassion. What a great opportunity for the church to stand alongside people of goodwill from all faiths and none.
- The progress of a vital conversation about the future of the European project. Did we unite to create a fortress closed to the poor of the world, or are we together for the good of all? The people of Europe could in this moment show themselves to be part of a culture of compassion and peace, the holders of the very values our world most needs. Or we could take the selfish option and work to preserve our own position of privilege.
To quote a cliché that has surprising value at a time like this, 'what would Jesus do?'